The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is an activist group that stands up for the First Amendment rights of creators and readers to make up their own minds. Each year, they face numerous challenges.
And for the past few years, the challenges have been increasing.
On Sunday, the CBLDF held a panel hosted by Charles Brownstein and Betsy Gomez highlighting the wave of censorship spreading across the world like kudzu, relentless and nearly impossible to stop. And the results are frightening.
They started with international cases. Leading things off was the story of Atena Farghadani, a political in Iran who made a cartoon attacking her legislators for their backwards stances on birth control. Not only was she put on trial for this, but she and her attorney shook hands at one point at the trial, which netted her a charge of adultery (they had to inspect her to make sure her “virginity was intact”). She is currently in the second year of a twelve year sentence, during which she went on a hunger strike and had a heart attack.
(They did note that a mural was painted on a building in NYC in support of Atena, and an anonymous vandal thought it was a mural in support of Muslim women and defaced it. The landlord ordered the mural removed for the protection of his tenants.)
Next was Zunar, a Malaysian cartoonist who has been critical of sedition laws in his country. He’s also been arrested for Tweeting his contempt for the government. The charges are sedition, but the actual laws he is being prosecuted under predate the current regime, so they are grabbing whatever they can to silence him. Sellers of his books and even buyers are also being targeted and harassed by the government.
Sonny Liew is a comic book pro (he worked with Paul Levitz on Doctor Fate for DC) who, in Singapore, made a graphic novel that criticized aspects of his country’s history, and the government funding was pulled. Thankfully, he beat the system – the book still got published and has sold multiple prints since then.
Bonil is a cartoonist in Ecuador who is constantly running up against the Ecuador censorship ministry. He and his newspaper were fined the equivalent of a half million US dollars, and the government forced them to run an apology for seven days in the space where his cartoon usually runs. He also got a death threat from an ISIS follower.
Egypt has become a hotbed of censorship, with one guy accused of running an unregistered website. It was actually his Facebook page. He spent the night in jail. Another novelist got two years in prison because a 65 year old man said the passage was so graphic it gave him heart palpitations. The charge was violating public modesty.
On the home front, challenges to books in libraries is the most frequent. Virginia is trying to pass a law allowing books to be excluded for various things like sexual depictions, but it’s written so vaguely, it could apply to the Bible or Shakespeare. It passed both state houses and everyone is waiting to see what the governor will do. Objecting to books on educational grounds to get around the artistic merit argument is the most common avenue. That One Summer is getting challenged because it refers to a character having a miscarriage. The book Palomar by Gilbert Hernandez was challenged when a concerned parent went straight to the media about the book being objectionable, and the news reported it was child pornography without checking out the book itself. Another was a 20 year old college student who took an elective literature class and wound up reading Y The Last Man, Sandman – The Doll’s House, Persepolis, and Fun Home. She was expecting Batman and such, so she and her parents picketed, insisting that there be trigger warnings about the material. Eventually, the course was kept as it was, but they did try.
The number of challenges and threats is increasing. Keep an eye out, and support the CBLDF…